Dream Scenario Review
I’ve seen two movies this weekend that WEREN’T Godzilla Minus One, and both left me wishing I had seen Godzilla Minus One instead. The first was Silent Night, which I saw on a whim based on what time it was showing at the theater. The other was this, Dream Scenario, movie I’d been looking forward to for weeks. How did it let me down? Well, we will get there. But first…
Dream Scenario tells the story of Nicholas Cage as Paul, a tenured college professor teaching evolutionary biology. His life is thrown for a loop when he inexplicably starts showing up in the dreams of people the world over. He finds out from their reports that he doesn’t really do anything; he merely seems to be watching whatever else their brains are inducing in their sleep.
Paul, having faced some professional losses as a former colleague of his rips off his research to write a book, starts looking into ways to advance his career through his newfound popularity. Fame doesn’t exactly want out of Paul what he wants out of it, though, as he discovers when he visits a start-up called Thoughts?. But he decides to ride the wave and see if he can achieve what he wants anyway.
Right after meeting with Thoughts?, though, Paul’s stock crashes as the dreams about him turn into dreadful nightmares. His children start getting harassed at school, his wife is demoted, and Paul faces that few of his students can stand even being in the same room as he is.
His personal and professional lives splinter apart as Paul tries to cope with what was once curious admiration but has transformed into fear and disgust.
TWO UPS AND TWO DOWNS
+Nicholas Cage as Paul is really going for everything here. He has such a wonderful dorky affectation as Paul; it’s unlike much of anything we’ve ever seen before from him. His voice is more shrill, and he lacks any measure of self-confidence. This Cage isn’t stealing the Declaration Of Independence or Fac[ing] Off with John Travolta. This iteration of Cage struggles to pay the bills or make friends.
Also, every turn Cage takes is believable here. He starts off as a high-functioning loser, then gets absorbed into his own bubble of fame and popularity. When the nightmares start, he effortlessly channels deep despair, resentment, and loss. Cage has long proven that when he wants to act, he really, truly can. And for this role, you can tell his desire to nail the performance was turned all of the way up.
+Things end up falling off a bit–more on that in a bit–but the first act of this effort is honestly quite good. It’s funny, it’s a bit goofy, and there is a solid quality of “we’re all having a good time here”. Cage’s relationship with his family is well-established early, so we see his dynamics with them and what he has to lose if things don’t work out for him. Cage’s lessons on the evolutionary advantage of zebras pays off when we see him become highly conspicuous to others. We see him as a guy that has made a successful life for himself, but is also still something of a failure in several professional regards. The set up to this movie is meticulous and completely achieved.
Even after the dreams become a part of Paul’s life, everything is still enjoyable because Paul is such a nuanced character. He’s seemingly honored, but also almost perturbed that his dream self isn’t doing more than showing up and watching. Everything is handled with such tact and layers, you can’t help but to be all in. Until…
-There is one scene in particular that feels wildly out of place with the rest of the movie, and it really did not work for me. It takes place right in the middle of the film, and it occurs after Paul meets up with the Thoughts? Group start-up looking for a way to capitalize on his success.
Despite not making sense with anything that comes before it, an intern at Thoughts? tells Paul that her dreams about him are raunchy sex dreams. Immediately, I had this pegged as the company using this attractive twenty-something girl to play into Paul’s ego and insecurities to get him on board, But as the scene goes on, we end up discerning that nope… she is telling a truth. A drunk Paul takes her back to her apartment where she gets him to re-enact part of her dream. After she is properly turned on, she begins kissing him and moving towards taking off his pants… and he farts. The two blow it off, and she continues… only for Paul to climax while his pants are still on. Oh, and he farts again after doing so.
Even ignoring that the intern’s dream don’t fit the mold–this occurs when Paul is not yet even a malevolent presence in dreams–Paul just eagerly cheating on his wife after barely three drinks ruins the sympathy the movie seems to want us to have for him and his plight. And then, yeah… fart jokes. The height of comedy.
I genuinely and wholly wished this entire scene had been left on the editing room floor. Nothing about it worked either on its own or as part of the larger film’s whole.
-In the late third act, the movie seems to lose focus on what it had been trying to do. Or it just gets bored and decides to do something else instead. It gives up entirely on its weird message about Cancel Culture or whatever it thought it was saying, and it pivots over to being briefly about advertisers finding a way to capitalize on what Paul was unknowingly doing. They pay for studies to hone the power through a clunky, light-up bangle (what?) so that they can beam advertisements directly into peoples’ brains. And despite what happened with Paul, everyone just decides this is… a good idea? Like, even the population at large? What?
It’s virtually whiplash-inducing how quickly the movie abandons its core theme and hops on over to a poke at the omnipresence of advertising and how it finds a way to slither into every aspect of a potential consumer’s life. It’s a jarring point to spend the final ten-plus minutes or so on, and it left me feeling all very… “Did we need this?”.
They thankfully manage to use it to call back to a conversation Paul and is wife had very early on, but the road there is just so unwelcome. I’d rather they had left it all out.
Dream Scenario is a roller coaster of quality. For the first act-and-a-half, we get Cage being charming and affable as the world of the benevolent dreams is built around him. He has goals and wants, but mostly, he’s a likable guy stuck on a ride. Unfortunately, the mid-film scene with the intern blows up his characterization and our desire to see him succeed. Even then, Cage again shines through in his descent into the darker side of fame… until the movie switches gears for the last fifteen minutes. All told, the bad is what will stick with me more than anything, so I can’t go much higher than saying this is adequate.